The Capture of Camp Jackson:

The First Major Action Bringing Civil War to Missouri

by Scott K. Williams

 

Missouri Public Support Against Secession:

On March 9, 1861, during the State Convention meeting at the St. Louis Mercantile Library Hall, Judge Hamilton Gamble, on behalf of the Committee on Federal Relations stated:

"To involve Missouri in revolution under the present circumstances is certainly not demanded by the magnitude of the grievances of which we complain nor by the certainty that they cannot be otherwise and more peacefully remedied, or even diminished by such revolution,

"The position of Missouri in relation to the adjacent States, which would continue in the Union, would necessarily expose her, if she became a member of new Confederacy, to utter destruction, whenever any rupture might take place between the different republics. In a military aspect Secession and connection with a Southern Confederacy is annihilation of Missouri.

"The true position for Missouri to assume is that of a State whose interests are bound up in the maintenance of the Union, and whose kind feelings and strong sympathies are with the people of the Southern States, with whom we are connected by the ties of friendship and blood, , , , To go with those States-to leave the Government our fathers builded-to blot out the star of Missouri from the constellation of the Union, is to ruin ourselves, without doing them any good. We cannot follow them, we cannot give up the Union, but will do all in our power to induce them to again take their places with us in the family from which they have attempted to separated themselves."

"For this purpose we will not only recommend a compromise with which they ought to be satisfied, but we will endeavor to procure an assemblage of the whole family of States, in order that, in a General Convention, such amendments to the Constitution may be agreed upon as shall permanently restore harmony in the whole nation."

The resolution recommended by the Committee on Federal Relations and adopted by the State Convention held:

1, There is at present no adequate cause to secede.

2. The Union shall be perpetuated and harmony restored.

3. The Crittenden amendments are recommended.

4. A convention of all States shall propose amendments to the United States Constitution.

5. Coercion will cause civil war; therefore the military power of the United States and of the Seceded States should be withheld and stayed.

6. The Convention should adjourn to December 3, 1861, or be subject to a call of an appointed Committee.

On March 21st when the final vote was taken, the above resolution was passed by a 98 to 1 majority (nine members were absent). Missouri clearly stood for the Union, and not even a pro-secessionist Governor (Jackson) had no way to change that. That is, unless he could instigate a situation  that would change the hearts and minds of Missouri's citizens.


The Governor's Plan:

The St. Louis Arsenal, the coveted target. Note the building in the background still stands on the old Arsenal grounds to this day.

Former Governor Robert M. Stewart, the Governor before Jackson's term laid down the State policy of "armed neutrality". Being against secession, Gov. Stewart's views more closely mirrored the opinions of the majority of Missourians than that of Gov. Jackson.  Stewart's warning was "As matters are at present Missouri will stand by her lot, and hold to the Union as long as it is worth an effort to preserve it...In the mean time Missouri will hold herself in readiness, at any moment, to defend her soil from pollution and her property from plunder by fanatics and marauders, come from what quarter they may...She is able to take care of herself, and will be neither forced nor flattered, driven nor coaxed, into a course of action that must end in her own destruction."

Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson, on the other hand, did not see secession as destruction for  Missouri and sought for the State to join the Confederacy.  Although he continued with the policy of "armed neutrality", he believed Missouri public opinion would shift in favor of secession. Until that time came, Jackson did everything he could do to prepare the State for that awaited day.   No doubt he preferred a peaceful transition and in fact he  made an agreement with one of the commanders at the St. Louis Arsenal for the transfer to State authorities without hostilities. But this situation changed when those commanders were replaced by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon who was transferred from the West to the Arsenal. Lyon was a highly qualified Army officer and was extremely devoted to preserving the Union.

Gov. Jackson further feared that Missouri's resources would be used by Federal authorities in Lincoln's war against the southern Confederacy. Jackson's response to Lincoln's request for 3,123 troops was, "Sir--Your requisition is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary; in its object inhuman & diabolical.  Not one man will Missouri furnish to carry on any such unholy crusade against her Southern sisters." This was not merely Gov. Jackson's personal opinion but the opinion of the majority of Missourians who opposed any disregard for the State's neutrality.  Only in St. Louis was there significant support for Lincoln's war on the South. But for Lincoln, Congressman Frank Blair and St. Louis' Germans would begin secretly enlisting Missouri Volunteers to fight on behalf of the Union.

It was evident to Gov. Jackson that once Missouri elected to secede from the Union, the Federal Arsenal would have to be taken over by force. In Jackson's mind the Arsenal would become Missouri's "Ft. Sumter", so to speak. Unfortunately, Missouri lacked the weapons necessary for reducing its rock walls and overwhelming its defenders. In anticipation of Missouri joining the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis received envoys from Gov. Jackson, and issued them siege guns, mortars, and other weapons.

A letter dated April 19th that Gov. Jackson sent to a member of the Arkansas Convention (David Walker) supports this explanation. Gov. Jackson wrote, "I have been, from the beginning, in favor of prompt action on the part of the southern states, but a majority of the people of Missouri, up to the present time, have differed with me.  What their future action may be, no man, with certainty, can predict or foretell, but my present impression is--judging from the indications hourly occurring--that Missouri will be ready for secession in less than thirty days...Public sentiment here is rapidly leading to this point. A few more days will determine all."

In a few more days Gov. Jackson planned on receiving his secret shipment of arms. A letter, dated 23 April, 1861 and signed by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy reads:

His Excellency C.F. Jackson, Governor of Missouri.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge yours of the 17th instant, borne by Capts. Greene and Duke, and have most cordially welcomed the fraternal assurances it brings.

A misplaced but generous confidence has, for years past, prevented the Southern States from making the preparation required by the present emergency, and our power to  supply you with ordnance is far short of the will to serve you.  After learning as well as I could from the gentlemen accredited to me what was most needful for the attack on the Arsenal, I have directed  that Capts. Greene and Duke should be furnished with two 12-pounder howitzers and two 32-pounder guns, with the proper ammunition for each.  These, from the commanding hills, will be effective, both against the garrison and to breach the inclosing walls of the place.  I concur with you as to the great importance of capturing the Arsenal and securing its supplies, rendered doubly important by the means taken to obstruct your commerce and render you unarmed victims of a hostile invasion.

We look anxiously and hopefully for the day when the star of Missouri shall be added to the constellation of the Confederate States of America. With best wishes, I am, very respectfully, yours,

--Jefferson Davis.

Camp Jackson:

The Missouri Volunteer State Militia had a yearly  event of muster and drill at a open area known as "Lindell's Grove", just north of the city limits of St. Louis. This year's event was coined "Camp Jackson" in honor of the Governor. The secret shipment of guns arriving from the Confederacy would be transported to Camp Jackson in wooden crates labeled "Tamoroa Marble". It would be a mistake to claim that the camp at that time intended to march upon the Arsenal. The number of militia at the camp was far too small to take on such a strongly defended position. This was a routine muster with no planned objectives except to get these secretly obtained weapons secured for Gov. Jackson's future use. [See 1861 Image of Troops at Camp Jackson]

By no means were all the men at this muster secessionist. Although there was no poll taken, most citizens were neutral on the issue, preferring to remain in the Union. Perhaps as many of 1/3 were staunchly pro-Union in any situation. For example, 2nd in charge was  Lt. Col. John Knapp who would become a Colonel in the pro-Union Enrolled Missouri Militia. According to witnesses there was a number of pro-secessionist flags and camp streets signs but these probably were those belonging to members of the Minute Men Militia, a pro-Southern paramilitary organization, a relatively small segment of the Missouri Volunteer Militia. According to Gen. Daniel M. Frost, the Commander of Camp Jackson, every soldier in camp had taken a solemn oath to not only serve the State of Missouri but to protect the "Constitution and laws of the United States..."

 [See Map Enlargement and annotated Street Pattern Map]


Nathaniel Lyon Takes Action:

Unknowingly to Gov. Jackson, the commander of the U.S. Arsenal, Capt. Nathaniel Lyon had received intelligence of the secret arms being transported to Camp Jackson. In fact, it is widely acclaimed that Lyon himself surveyed the camp while disguised as a woman riding inside a carriage. Lyon decided to take preemptive action and ordered U.S. troops and U.S. reserve troops to march on Camp Jackson. Some officials advised against such action, preferring to follow a legal confrontation through the courts (the arms from the Confederacy were stolen U.S. property from the Baton Rouge Arsenal). But Lyon was a fiery hot tempered military man that would not risk slow indecisive results through the legal route. Better to use overwhelming force and hope for an unconditional surrender.

 

The following perspective is taken from Robert J. Rombauer's, "The Union Cause in St. Louis in 1861" (1909); [Note: Although the men of the Missouri Volunteer Militia are referred to as "secessionists", only a minority of at this time were actually of this persuasion, most preferred neutrality, although the unfolding events would soon drive men to the opposing sides.]

"Early morning on May 10, a horseman was seen galloping southward on the Carondelet Road to Jefferson Barracks.  He took orders to the First Volunteers, which camped there, to march without delay and with forty rounds of cartridges to the Arsenal, fully eight miles distant.  They started about eight o'clock, was headed at the Arsenal by two Companies of Regulars under Lieutenant Sweeney, and followed their Colonel, Frank P. Blair, and the commander of all the troops, Captain Nathaniel Lyon.  This column moved north on Seventh street to Chouteau avenue and westward on the latter until coming in full view of Lindell Grove, they saw the Secessionists run to their cannons and rally to arms.  From here this column advanced across the commons in a diagonal line, alternating the "quick step" with "double quick", to a narrow lane west of the camp, and marched on same northward to Olive, passing Frost's sentinels within twenty yards.  A part of the First Volunteers was still in the western lane when the head of its column, marching eastward on Olive, met the Union troops coming westward from the city.

The Second Volunteers, Colonel Boernstein, started from Marine Hospital, marched on Broadway to Chouteau avenue and followed that avenue and the route taken by Lyon  and Blair; the distance was near six miles.  Six pieces of artillery and the Third Volunteers under Colonel Francis Sigel started from the Arsenal, marched up Broadway to Olive and out Olive to the camp, the Artillery taking position on the elevated ground at the east end, also north of the camp, commanding its entire length and threatening it thus in case of a combat, with a most destructive fire.  The Fourth Volunteers, Colonel Nic Schuettner, also started from the Arsenal with the Third, but branched off on Market Street and followed that street and Laclede Avenue to the southern line near the east end of the camp. The Reserve Regiments were disposed as follows:  From the First Reserve, Colonel Almstedt, one Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel R. J. Rombauer, marched from Jaeger's Garden on Tenth and Sidney, across the commons to Jefferson Avenue; thence to the east end of Camp Jackson, and took position on the left of the Artillery.  From the Second Reserve, Colonel Kallmann, one Battalion under Lietenant-Colonel J.T. Fiala, marched from Soulard Market, north to Olive and west on Olive to the camp, and took position southwest of the First Reserve.  The Third Reserve, Colonel John McNeil, formed at the St. Louis Turner Hall on Tenth and Walnut; marched out on Pine Street, then turned to Clark Avenue, following this to west of Jefferson Avenue and formed there the line in front of a little church and near the southeast corner of the camp.  The Fourth Reserve, Colonel B. Gratz Brown, marched out on Morgan to near the northeast corner of the camp, guarded with the Third Reserve the approaches to town, forming an actual reserve force for Lyon's command and cutting off the approach to the camp from the city.

Some of the Regulars and the completed Companies of the Fifth Volunteers, under Colonel C. E. Salomon, held the Arsenal, while one Battalion of the First Reserve, under Major Philip Brimmer, and one Battalion of the Second Reserve, under Major Julius Rapp, occupied the streets and guarded the approaches to the Arsenal, with the order to pass no one.  The Fifth Reserve, Colonel Charles G. Stifel, not yet armed, but ready for muster, was assembled at headquarters, Stifel's Brewery.

The distance which each column had to march, being known to Captain Lyon, he timed their starting to secure the simultaneous arrival in their respective positions, in order to surround the camp from all sides.

As soon as the inhabitants noticed Regiment near Regiment to press westward on parallel streets with the cadence of fate, and observed the waves of glittering bayonets roll steadily onward along the avenues and many thousand serious, determined men move like veterans toward one destination, an indescribable excitement spread among the people.  The rumor of the Union host's march towards Camp Jackson spread like wild fire through the city.  The simultaneous movement on various streets bewildered the population, and set large numbers of men that belonged to the camp, as well as their friends, in motion, of whom Scharf says in the History of St. Louis:  "Numbers of men seized rifles, shotguns, or whatever other weapons they could lay hands upon and rushed pell mell to the assistance of the State troops, but were of course obstructed in their designs,. " still many of them gathered near the camp, while the majority of men, women and children were actuated by curiosity only, and rushed in wagons, buggies, and on horseback, most of them, however, on foot, like a living stream, ahead, on the side and behind the troops and towards Camp Jackson; not at all deterred by the certainty that in case of a conflict, even a great many spectators must lose their lives.  From the pavements, from the windows, even from roofs, people gazed upon the martial array.  Mothers of Union sons cast saddened looks upon their passing offsprings, while sisters and wives looked wistfully after the vanishing ranks; nor was the anguish of the families in the center of town less, creating anxiety in the older persons, and often disdain akin to hatred in the more demonstrative girls and boys, who ostentatiously withdrew from sight and slammed many a door and shutter in order to give patent expression to their sentiments.

Gen. Daniel M. Frost, aware of Lyon's movements, sends Col. John S. Bowen to deliver the following message:

Camp Jackson, Mo., May 10, 1861

Captain N. Lyon:

Sir:  I am constantly in receipt of information that you contemplate an attack upon my camp; while I understood that you are impressed with the idea that an attack upon the Arsenal and United States troops is intended on the part of the Militia of Missouri;... I would be glad to know from you personally whether there is any truth in the statements that are constantly poured into my ears.  So far as regards any hostility being intended towards the United States or its property or representatives by any portion of my command, or as far as I can learn, and I think I am fully informed, of any other part of the State forces I can say positively that the idea has never been entertained.... I trust that, after this explicit statement, we may be able, by fully understanding each other, to keep far from our borders, the misfortunes which so unhappily afflict our common country.

I am, ect.,

Brig.-Gen. D. M. Frost

 

Capt. Nathaniel Lyon, his mind already made up, refuses to read the above message. He proceeds with surrounding Camp Jackson within sight and musket range of Frost's forces.

Capt. Lyon sends B. G. Farrar forward with the following message to Gen. Frost:

 

HeadQuarters United States Troops, St. Louis, May 10, 1861.

General D. M. Frost, Commanding Camp Jackson.

Sir: Your command is regarded as evidently hostile toward the Government of the United States.  It is for the most part made up of those Secessionists who have openly avowed their hostility to the General Government, and have been plotting the seizure of it property and the overthrow of its authority.  You are openly in communication with the so-called Southern Confederacy, which is now at war with the United States, and you are receiving at your camp from the said Confederacy, and under its flag, large supplies of the material of war, most of which is known to be property of the United States.  These extraordinary preparations plainly indicate none other than the well-known purpose of the Governor of the State, under whose order your are acting, and whose purpose recently communicated to the Legislature, has just been responded to by that body, in the most unparalleled legislation, having in direct view hostilities to the General Government and co-operation with its enemies.

     In view of these considerations, and of your failure to disperse in obedience to the proclamation of the President, and in view of the eminent necessities of State policy and welfare, and the obligations imposed upon me by instructions from Washington, it is my duty to demand, and I do hereby demand of you, an immediate surrender of your command, with no other conditions than that all persons surrendering under this demand shall be humanely and kindly treated.

Believing myself prepared to enforce this demand, one-half hour's time before doing so, will be allowed for your compliance therewith.

                                              Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

N. LYON,

Captain Second Infantry, Commanding Troops.

 

During the thirty minutes after issuing this notice to Gen. Frost, a growing angry crowd was pouring from the city, hurling insults at Lyon's troops and threatened riot. Gen. Frost requested more time, but Capt. Lyon nervous of the situation, countered that his troops would begin firing in ten minutes. Gen. Frost issued one last appeal:

CAPTAIN N. LYON, Commanding U.S. Troops.

Sir: I never for a moment conceived the idea that so illegal and unconstitutional demand, as I have just received from you, would be made by an officer of the United States Army.

I am wholly unprepared to defend my command from this unwarranted attack, and shall, therefore, be forced to comply with your demand.

                                                  I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

D.M. Frost,

Brig. Gen. Comdg. Camp Jackson, M. V. M.

 

The Aftermath:

The State troops immediately stacked arms and gave up peacefully. There was no cheering among Lyon's men. Frost's troops were marched in between files of the First Volunteers. Other troops stayed at Camp Jackson to guard the captured arms and supplies. In a highly inopportune moment, Capt. Lyon, after dismounting, was kicked by his own horse and knocked disabled for some time. While Lyon's officers waited on the Captain, the crowds grew larger and angrier by the moment. "Damn the Dutch", "Hurrah for Jeff Davis" were shouted along with other insults.  Rocks and dirt clods were thrown at Lyon's men. Men in the crowds were brandishing pistols. One armed drunk tried to make his way through the troops and was pushed away. Feeling insulted, the drunk opened fire, wounding an officer. Union troops fired randomly. "Captain Rufus Saxton , at the head of the Regulars was shot at three times, while the crowd around the man who shot, goaded him on.." Soon after a "most aggressive man" was bayoneted. 

After the killing of one soldier and the mortal wounding of Capt. Constantin Blandovski (3rd Volunteers), company after company was ordered to fire volleys into the crowds. Men, women and children, perhaps as many as 100 were wounded with 28 dead or dying. Among the dead were three Camp Jackson prisoners, and a baby in its mother's arms. This all happened along Olive Street.

The troops with prisoners left the area by marching down Olive street, then south to Chouteau and east to Broadway. Insults and rowdies followed along shouting obscenities. By the time the troops reached Chouteau Ave., Union flags began appearing. As the troops progressed down South Broadway crowds gathered to cheer and shower Lyon's forces with flowers. Clearly a different welcome than they had received in the northern part of the city (dominated by the Catholic Irish and southerners of varying ethnicities).

Once the St. Louis Arsenal was reached, the prisoners were guarded by the First Volunteers, and  remained there until paroled. Rioting will begin in the city of St. Louis. More events of U.S. troops firing on citizens will be repeated, but they were not wholly without deadly provocation.

The majority of militia men of Camp Jackson, once predominantly neutral Union men, now became hardened against the Federal government. They will remain loyal to their State government and enlist in the Missouri State Guard and defeat Gen. Lyon at the Battle of Wilson's Creek (Aug 10, 1861), three months following the Camp Jackson affair. A minority of the militia men from Camp Jackson will side with Gen. Lyon . These defenders of the Union will fight with equal valor against Jackson's forces but being outnumbered they are forced to make a retreat and leave behind their beloved Lyon, the first U.S. General to killed in the Civil War.

"What If":

What if Capt. Lyon never captured Camp Jackson ?

It is likely the Civil War in Missouri never would have happened. Sure Gov. Jackson would have obtained illegal arms but he never would have been able to use them against the Federal government without the State first seceding from the Union.  The State convention had already voted against secession and it was unlikely as long as Missouri's neutrality was observed nothing would have changed.

 The political conditions before Camp Jackson would have never approved the formation of the Missouri State Guard, Gov. Jackson would never have been granted dictatorial powers by the State legislature, and its Commander, Gen. Sterling Price would have remained a moderate  Union man. Gov. Jackson's illegal munitions would have remained in a store house or possibly being retrieved Lyon using the Federal courts.

Certainly part of Capt. Lyon's and supporter's conflict with the Governor was the desire to see Missouri take an active role in fighting Lincoln's war. It could not remain neutral if the State was to be used as a staging ground for southern campaigns. The industrial resources of the City of St. Louis provided the necessary raw materials and the iron might of Eads' ironclad gunboats. Without these, plus without Missouri's hard fighting Federal troops winning battles of the West would have been much harder or even an impossible endeavor to reach.

[1861 Camp Jackson Location Image]

[Photos of Camp Jackson Today]

[Annotated Map]

For a  Pro-Lincoln administration or German Immigrant perspective on Camp Jackson, see page, "The German Cause of Missouri".

"Invasion of Camp Jackson" Song Lyrics

[By Joseph Leddy, circa 1861. Leddy was one of many Irish St. Louisans that sided with Gov. Jackson's government.] Background Midi tune, "Happy Land of Canaan", produced by Dean Fowler under commission by Scott Williams, Copyright 2000.

Flag of the Co. G, 1st Regiment, Missouri Volunteer Militia "Missouri Guard" (Original flag is in the Missouri Historical Society collection.) Reverse side of flag reads, "Missouri Guard".

1st Verse:

"It was on the Tenth of May, Kelly's men were all away,

When the Dutch surrounded Camp Jackson;

Lyon was there, with Boernstein and Blair,

to take our men from the happy land of Canaan."

Chorus (repeat after each verse):

"Oh! Oh! Oh! Ah! Ah! Ah!—The time of our glory is a-coming.

We yet will see the time, when all of us will shine,

And drive the Hessians from our happy land of Canaan."

   

Verse 2 :

Lyon came into camp with such a pompous tramp,

And said, “Frost, you'll have to surrender;

One half hour I'll give, that is, if you want to live,

To get out of this happy land of Canaan.”

 

3rd Verse:

"Our boys looked so nice and neat, when they formed upon the street,

 You could tell that sauerkraut was not their feeding;

 Our men were straight and tall, the Dutch were thin and small

 And a disgrace to our happy land of Canaan."

  

4th Verse:

"The people gave three cheers for the handsome Volunteers,

 Which raised the Hessians' indignation;

 They fired upon our brothers, killing sisters, wives and mothers!

 But we'll avenge them in the happy land of Canaan."

  

5th Verse:

"With Col. Kelly at our head, we will fight till we are dead

 Wherever he goes we will sustain him;

 He has led us on again, to fight with might and main,

 To whip the Dutch from this happy land of Canaan."

 

6th Verse:

"Twas just three months that day, since the gloomy 10th of May,

 When Lyon once again had us surrounded.

 But we were fighting for State-Rights, and we proved it in the fight,

 For we shot him in this happy land of Canaan."

 

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